Australia debates banning mobile phones in class
A recent government study by Kids Matter showed that 37 percent of 8 to 9-year-olds in Australia have at some time accessed the internet via a handheld device. Source: Nattaya Maneekhot/Shutterstock

Australia is debating the role of mobile phones in its schools after the country’s education minister called for phones to be locked away during class time.

After a 14-year-old student commit suicide because of cyberbullying, Education Minister Simon Birmingham told local media that “there’s almost no reason students shouldn’t have their phones switched off and in their lockers while they’re at school.”

“Although learning to work with technology is essential, phones can be a distraction from lessons and a platform for bullying unless schools have the right policies in place,” he said.

The Premier of Australia’s largest state New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, expressed agreement with the minister and said she didn’t think mobile phones “have any place in the classroom”.

Perth College, a private girls’ school in Western Australia, has even banned mobile phones during recess and lunch breaks.

“There is a growing body of evidence that suggests students don’t have the self-regulation skills to manage their use of technology and social media effectively,” the school’s principal Jenny Ethell told The West Australian newspaper.

“I think there’s a body of research that’s come out to support it as well, is that young people are becoming screen-obsessed … we felt it was really important that they develop what we call 3D or authentic relationships,” she said.

But experts are divided on the issue, with many rejecting the notion that phones are simply a distraction.

Children and technology expert Dr Joanne Orlando from the University of Western Sydney told ABC News that: “a blanket statement like that takes us a few years back from all the work we are doing in education and training. There are so many new ways that mobile devices can add to the classroom.”

NSW Secondary Principals’ Council President Chris Presland argued that mobile phones were important for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in Australian schools.

“It seems quite bizarre that we’re talking about banning the most obvious forms of technology at our disposal … it’s about the students and the teachers and the school community understanding how to approach educating students around cyber-safety.”

He said:

“And then also finding that nice balance where they use technology safely, but in a way that actually enhances their learning in the classroom.”

A recent government study by Kids Matter showed that 37 percent of eight to nine-year-olds in Australia have at some time accessed the Internet via a handheld device. More than half of 10 to 11-year-olds had.

“The clear message from our research, and also from speaking with parents right across Australia, is that parents are active in keeping their kids safe online, and are always keen to learn more to help them in this important role,” said the report.

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